Pop Culture

DeLay proves he’s no wild thing on ‘Dancing’

The new season of "Dancing With The Stars" kicked off on Monday night, and as host Tom Bergeron was quick to note, it's the most overstuffed season ever, with sixteen couples in the mix. For that reason, only the men danced in the premiere episode, meaning that eight dances were spread over two hours, so not even the giant cast could save viewers from a slow-paced opener.

First out of the gate was pop singer Aaron Carter, paired with the always dramatic Karina Smirnoff. Doing the cha-cha-cha, Carter was very sharp for a first-timer, and it's obvious that he's spent lots of time dancing. Still, there's something that looks a little overwound about his dancing right now. It's as if he's making all the right faces (and dancing very well for this stage) but can't quite harness his energy. The judges said as much, with all three focusing on his "potential" and the need for him to clean up the feet.

Much more cleanup will be required for mixed martial artist Chuck Liddell, whose partner is Anna Trebunskaya. Her first instruction was that Chuck needs to smile during the foxtrot more than he smiles when he's kicking a guy in the face. Liddell is awkward and looks pained much of the time, but something about him is oddly winning, and he's clearly trying hard. He also got a very positive audience response, despite not exactly being filled with natural charisma. Liddell will never be a great dancer, but his kind of fish-out-of-water sometimes sticks around longer than you'd expect.

Mark Dacascos of "Iron Chef: America," who's both an actor and a martial artist, landed the award for Most On-The-Nose Musical Selection for doing the cha-cha-cha to "Kung Fu Fighting." Predictably, partner Lacey Schwimmer sprinkled the dance with martial arts moves, and just as predictably, judge Len Goodman would have preferred regular dancing. Still, Dacascos was graceful and athletic, and he understands rhythm and movement.

  • Slideshow Photos

    ‘Dancing With the Stars’ 2009

    Donny Osmond, Kelly Osbourne, Tom DeLay, Michael Irvin and a dozen others will face off for this season’s mirrorball trophy.

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    Mark Dacascos and Lacey Schwimmer -

    Famously known as "The Chairman" and host of Food Network's "Iron Chef America," Mark Dacascos is also a trained martial artist and an actor. He has appeared in several feature films, including "Brotherhood of the Wolf" and "Only the Strong." He will dance with Lacey Schwimmer, who returns for her third season.

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    Louie Vito and Chelsie Hightower -

    Professional snowboarder Louie Vito is among the elite athletes favored to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. The 21 year-old native of Bellefontaine, Ohio, turned pro in 2006 and has competed in multiple Winter X-Games competitions. He joins Chelsie Hightower, who returns for her second season.

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    Natalie Coughlin and Alec Mazo -

    Olympic swimming gold medalist Natalie Coughlin is the most decorated female athlete of both the 2008 Beijing and 2004 Athens Games. Coughlin has won a medal in every single Olympic event that she has ever entered, for a total of 11 Olympic medals. She teams with Season 1 champion Alec Mazo, who returns for his fifth season.

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    Chuck Liddell and Anna Trebunskaya -

    Chuck Liddell is the face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the icon of Mixed Martial Arts -- the fastest growing sport in America. In 1998 he won his first UFC Mixed Martial Arts fight. Soon after, Liddell rose through the ranks to become the light-heavyweight champion of the world. He is tied for the most wins by a UFC fighter, with 16. He teams with Anna Trebunskaya, who returns for her fourth season.

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    Kathy Ireland and Tony Dovolani -

    Supermodel Kathy Ireland is now a wife, mother of three, author, Sunday school teacher and fashion CEO. She supports many non-profits, including the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation, Feed the Children and the Alliance for Christian Education. UCLA named her one of the top 10 women's health advocates in America. She teams with Tony Dovolani, who returns for his eighth season.

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    Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson -

    Donny Osmond won the hearts of millions as both a member of the Osmonds and, with his sister Marie, as the youngest co-hosts in primetime history on the iconic ABC variety series, "The Donny & Marie Show." For nearly five decades, Donny has been a singer, musician, Broadway and film actor, talk show and game show host and bestselling author. He is paired with Kym Johnson, who returns for her seventh season.

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    Ashley Hamilton and Edyta Sliwinska -

    Actor Ashley Hamilton, son of former "Dancing With the Stars" contestant George Hamilton, has a varied entertainment career including songwriting, singing, and stand-up comedy. He teams with Edyta Sliwinska, who is the only pro to compete in all nine seasons of "Dancing with the Stars."

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    Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke -

    Former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay is president of First Principles, a political consulting firm. He was first elected to Congress in 1984 and eventually earned the nickname "The hammer" for his aggressive leadership style. He teams up with two-time champion Cheryl Burke, who returns for her eighth season.

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    Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff -

    Aaron Carter, whose older brother is Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys, began his musical career at age eight. In addition to his solo music career, he has acted on Broadway, and starred in the reality show "House of Carters," about his family. He teams with Karina Smirnoff, who returns for her seventh season.

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    Kelly Osbourne and Louis Van Amstel -

    Kelly Osbourne, daughter of rocker Ozzy and TV personality Sharon Osbourne, came to fame as a 16-year-old on "The Osbournes." She's released two albums and hosted a radio show in the U.K. She teams up with Louis Van Amstel, who returns for his fifth season.

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    Mya and Dmitry Chaplin -

    R&B singer Mya has been a singing star since age 19. In addition to releasing five full length albums, one of which went platinum and another gold, she starred in the the film "Chicago," for which she won a Screen Actors Guild Award. She teams with Dmitry Chaplin, who returns for his second season.

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    Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough -

    Polish-born model Joanna Krupa has made numerous TV and film appearances, and competed in the reality show "The Superstars" on ABC. She's been featured in E!'s "The Sexiest" as one of the sexiest women in the world and Maxim voted her among their Top 100 women in the world. Krupa teams with Season 7 champ Derek Hough, who returns for his fifth season.

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    Melissa Joan Hart and Mark Ballas -

    Actress Melissa Joan Hart, a mom of two, is best known for her starring roles in "Clarissa Explains It All" and "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." She teams up with reigning two-time "Dancing with the Stars" champ Mark Ballas, who returns for his fifth season.

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    Debi Mazar and Maksim Chmerkovskiy -

    Debi Mazar's feature film debut in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" set the stage for an extensive career in both television and film. The actress plays publicist Shauna on HBO's "Entourage" and co-hosts an Internet show focused on Tuscan cuisine. She is a mom of two. She teams with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who returns for his seventh season.

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    Michael Irvin and Anna Demidova -

    Three-time Super Bowl champion Michael Irvin, a former wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He teams with Season 8's Professional Dancer Competition winner Anna Demidova, who makes her debut.

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    Macy Gray and Jonathan Roberts -

    R&B singer-songwriter Macy Gray has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide. She's been nominated for five Grammy Awards, winning one. She teams with Jonathan Roberts, who returns for his seventh season.

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    Samantha Harris and Tom Bergeron -

    Samantha Harris and Tom Bergeron co-host "Dancing With the Stars." Bergeron also hosts "America's Funniest Home Videos."

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    Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Len Goodman -

    Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Len Goodman are the judges on "Dancing With the Stars." All have dancing and choreography backgrounds.

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One of the season's more inexplicable contestants, Ashley Hamilton, was up next. He led with explanations to his partner Edyta Sliwinska about his injury history and its effects on his ability to move. Whether that's the reason or not, Hamilton was embarrassingly stiff in the foxtrot, which lacked even a single molecule of the goofball charm that his father George effortlessly showed when dancing with Edyta a few seasons back. The judges called Ashley out on his total lack of personality, and he immediately began to look like his tenure on the show could be very, very short.

Of course, if anyone was expected to do well among the men, it was probably Donny Osmond, who is both a stage performer and a pretty familiar guy, both of which are early assets in a big way. Every bit of Osmond's theatricality was on display during a foxtrot to "All That Jazz," but the dance was a bit short on actual steps, as the judges all noted. Nothing bad will happen to Donny Osmond until a lot of lesser-known cannon fodder is eliminated, but for the moment, he's more a familiar and eager presence than a particularly good dancer.

Many in the audience undoubtedly were unfamiliar with snowboarder Louie Vito, who turned out to be a very petite guy with a broad, toothy smile. His partner, Chelsie Hightower, put together a foxtrot that didn't demand much of him technically, and he performed adequately, if a bit stiffly. Vito could easily become this season's Ty Murray, an underperforming lovable athlete with a great deal of charm.

The NFL is represented this season by Michael Irvin, who declared his entire goal was to do better than Jerry Rice. (He may not recall that Jerry Rice finished second.) So far, Michael Irvin is no Jerry Rice, but he did begin to loosen up while learning the cha-cha-cha.

The most talked-about contestant was predictably saved for last: Tom DeLay, paired with the reliable Cheryl Burke. DeLay initially looked like he was going to be utterly hopeless, but eventually, his cha-cha-cha looked merely really bad, and not disastrous. DeLay is cursed with all the grace of a lifelong politician, and forcing him to wiggle and lip sync to "Wild Thing" did him no favors. But anyone who has watched "Dancing" for any amount of time has seen worse. (Bruno Tonioli nevertheless called him "crazier than Sarah Palin.")

The last two elements of the night were "relay dances," in which four pairs of couples at a time competed, with the judges naming first through fourth place winners and awarding points according to placement. In the salsa relay, it was Donny Osmond, Louie Vito, Ashley Hamilton, and Chuck Liddell and their partners, and they performed about as they had in their solos. Hamilton was a hopeless stiff, Liddell was clunky but appealing, Vito was a solid but limited performer, and Osmond sold the routine like his life depended on it. And that was the order the judges assigned, from lowest to highest, giving Donny Osmond a boost he didn't need to stay in the competition.

The Viennese waltz relay sent Tom DeLay, Mark Dacascos, Aaron Carter, and Michael Irvin out with their partners. Again, the solo performances were predictably echoed: Carter is a very solid dancer, Dacascos is somewhat less so, DeLay sticks to very basic moves and doesn't embarrass himself too much, and Irvin has more charm than ability. Ultimately, Carter came in first, followed by Dacascos, Irvin, and DeLay.

The takeaway from the first night isn't complicated: Ashley Hamilton is in big trouble. He has no discernible fan base, very little name recognition, low scores from the judges, and nothing to give him a hook. Had he been a glorious train wreck, he might have picked up irony votes from people who at least thought he was entertaining. But being a bore is death for a guy like Hamilton, who would have to give people a reason to vote for him. The women will dance tomorrow night, but for now, Tom DeLay should be happy it's over and Ashley Hamilton should be enjoying it while it lasts.

Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.

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